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Cutler Hall bicentennial celebrates those who helped shape Ohio University’s 212-year history

Ohio University’s iconic Cutler Hall celebrated its 200th birthday on Friday, Oct. 21, with OHIO students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends, as well as members of the University’s Board of Trustees, gathered on its lawn under rainy skies to pay tribute to the historic structure and the people throughout the University’s history who helped to build it. 

Guests were welcomed by Board of Trustees Chair David Wolfort and had the opportunity to view items shared by the University’s academic colleges to be placed in a time capsule for future Bobcats to discover. The celebration also included a Cutler Hall coloring contest for Athens County elementary students facilitated by Ohio University Kids on Campus.

Cutler Hall bicentennial

Above: A portrait of Manasseh Cutler hangs on a wall in Cutler Hall along with pictures colored by elementary school students. Photos by Emily Matthews.

Among those in attendance were State Senator Lou Gentile, State Representative Debbie Phillips and Athens Mayor Steve Patterson, who each shared a proclamation in recognition of the bicentennial. Ohio Governor John Kasich was not able to attend, but did send his best wishes and a proclamation commemorating the event.

Cutler Hall bicentennial

Above: Artifacts, including the first Board of Trustees minutes and a resolution from Governor John Kasich, are displayed on a table. 

The oldest building erected for higher education west of the Alleghenies and north of the Ohio River, Cuter Hall’s cornerstone was laid in 1816 – 12 years after Ohio University’s founding. In its 200 years, Cutler Hall has served as a classroom building, laboratory, library and museum. Currently, the building houses the Ohio University Office of the President and other senior administrative offices. 

Reflecting on the time he has spent in Cutler Hall during his 12 years in office, President McDavis recognized the role the building has played in many of the historic decisions carried out to advance Ohio University’s mission. 

Cutler Hall bicentennial

Above: President Roderick J. McDavis speaks during the Cutler Hall Bicentennial celebration.

“While much has changed at Ohio University in the last 200 years, Cutler Hall has remained a constant presence,” President McDavis said. “A familiar structure, much like the Class Gateway, that often reminds our visitors – yes, this is Ohio University. And reminds our alumni and students – yes, this is home.”

Named after Manasseh Cutler, Cutler Hall is a designated national historic landmark and exemplifies Ohio University’s humble beginnings and 212-year transformation. 

Rupert Cutler, Ph.D., a descendant of Manasseh Cutler and resident of Roanoke, Va., shared a brief history of his ancestor’s role in higher education in the Northwest Territory and in the founding of Ohio University. 

Cutler Hall bicentennial

Above: Dr. Rupert Cutler, a descendant of Manasseh Cutler, speaks at the Cutler Hall Bicentennial celebration.

A lawyer, minister, doctor and botanist, Manasseh Cutler helped form the Ohio Company and lobbied in New York to settle the Northwest Territory in 1787. As a result, he prepared the charter for Marietta College and founded Ohio University. Most notably, Cutler is regarded as the principal author of the Northwest Ordinance, which many historians view as one of the most important documents in the history of the United States.

“The Northwest Ordinance was revolutionary,” Cutler said. “It established the precedent for new lands to be administered by the central government. The ‘natural rights’ provisions of the ordinance foreshadowed the Bill of Rights. It famously stated, ‘Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.’ It was the first national education law passed anywhere in the world.”

Also central to Cutler Hall’s history is the story of two brothers, Christopher and Daniel Herrold, who forgave the debt for the lumber to build Cutler Hall, which allowed for the structure’s completion in 1818. 

“That single act of benevolence became Ohio University’s first private gift,” President McDavis observed. “In 200 years, many additional charitable donations would follow. But that first one, while it might not have been our largest, was definitely one of our most notable!”

Cutler Hall bicentennial

Above: State Representative Debbie Phillips, Vice President for Student Affairs Jason Pina and Athens Mayor Steve Patterson were present for the celebration.

Helping to carry on Manasseh Cutler’s legacy at Ohio University today is the Cutler Scholars Program, which is privately funded by individuals and organizations who share in the ideal of identifying and developing young men and women with uncommon intellect, maturity and leadership potential, McDavis said. 

Emma Perrin, a senior studying journalism and a Cutler Scholar, shared her own personal reflections about how the Cutler Scholarship has shaped her experience at OHIO. 

“The scholarship attracts ambitious young people from around the world to Ohio University, not only aiding in the costs of attending college here, but also providing support for four unique enrichment experiences around the country and around the world,” Perrin said. “Through those experiences, I’ve had the incredible opportunities to canyoneer in the red rocks of southeast Utah; teach English in Cartagena, Colombia; study Spanish and international relations in Barcelona, Spain; and intern in the marketing department of the Chicago Shakespeare Theater.”

Now in its 20th year at Ohio University, Perrin noted the Cutler Scholars Program opens up the doors to Ohio University and offers this unparalleled educational experience to more and more students each year.

“To me, it seems quite fitting that Manasseh Cutler is the namesake of such a program, whose talents as a botanist, writer, lawyer, and minister earned him the title of ‘Renaissance Man’ in Thomas Hoover’s The History of Ohio University,” she said. “Manasseh Cutler’s mission and passion for education live on in a very real way through the program, and it is an honor to each and every Cutler Scholar to carry his name and legacy into the world.”

Cutler Hall bicentennial

Above: Ground is broken for the Cutler Hall time capsule with (from left): Dr. Joyce Herrold, Cutler Scholar Emma Perrin, State Senator Lou Gentile, Athens Mayor Steve Patterson, Board of Trustees Chair David Wolfort, President Roderick J. McDavis, State Representative Debbie Phillips and Dr. Rupert Cutler. 

To conclude the day’s program, President McDavis shared his experience visiting Manasseh Cutler’s last home and gravesite in Hamilton, Mass., where he came to better understand the University’s founding father and Cutler Hall’s namesake. 

“Cutler Hall is special because it is a symbol of our great University,” he said. “What a great man; what a great University.”